The early cancellation of the Cactus League spring training season due to the coronavirus meant a loss of almost half the previous recorded economic impact on the Phoenix area, an Arizona State University study revealed Friday.
The curtailed season meant a $363.6 million economic impact as compared to $644.2 million in 2018, said the study conducted by the L. William Seidman Research Institute at ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business.
In addition, the contribution of $213.7 million to Arizona’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was down from $373 million in 2018, the last time the study was conducted.
By March 12, when the season was canceled, 139 of 237 scheduled Cactus League games had been played. In the end, 89 games were lost due to the pandemic and another nine were rained out.
“Even with a severely curtailed season, the Cactus League delivered significant economic benefit for Arizona,” Cactus League president Chris Calcaterra said. “The pandemic’s impact on the state’s tourism industry has made it abundantly clear that we can’t take spring training for granted. We’re grateful to our stakeholders and partners for their support of this critically important tourism driver.”
Fifteen of MLB’s 30 teams train in towns across the Phoenix area at 10 facilities, including such high-profile draws as the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies. The other 15 train and play in Florida’s Grapefruit League.
A total of 912,956 fans attended Cactus League games in 2020, an average of 6,568 per game. Total attendance was way down from 2019, when 1,737,975 showed up for a full schedule with an average of 7,900 a game.
“Unfortunately, the shutdown came as we anticipated the annual influx of spring breakers to Arizona,” Cactus League executive director Bridget Binsbacher said. “Just as spring training offers fresh hope to baseball fans every year, we believe that the Cactus League will help lead the recovery of Arizona’s tourism industry.”
Spring training usually generates great impact on the state as tourists flood hotels, restaurants and attractions, none of which have recovered since COVID-19 has shut down or curtailed operations for many Arizona businesses. The study said six of 10 fans attending spring games are from out of state and the median spending per person is $335.71 per day.
The study also found that the Cactus League created 3,202 seasonal jobs, paying $128.3 million in labor income this spring. Spring training also directly generated a total of $18.4 million in taxes—$13.1 million for the state, and $5.3 million for local governments.
“The Cactus League is a key annual driver for tourism and hospitality; and 2020 was no different, despite the unprecedented circumstances,” said Dr. Anthony Evans, the ASU study’s author. “Adjusting for differences in the spending power of the dollar in both years, the total State GDP contribution of the first 139 baseball games by ballpark in 2018 and 2020 are comparable. On that basis, it’s reasonable to assume that the total impacts would have been on a par with 2018 if the 2020 season had been played in full.”
Researchers surveyed 2,344 visitors to Cactus League ballparks, including 1,446 non-Arizona residents. The estimated impacts are exclusively based on new dollars that flowed into the state from MLB teams and fans due to spring training. A GDP by state estimate is used by the Bureau of Economic Analysis as the primary indicator of the economic health of a specific geography.